Don’t Get Hung Up On Grades


Today, we are treated to the familiar news that A Level results have yet again improved on prior years. According to news sources, the pass rate rose for the 27th year in a row, with more than one in four exam entries (26.7%) awarded an A grade – up from 25.9% last year.

Excellent stuff. But what about those who didn’t quite make the grade? Those that had their sights set on a particular university only to have their hopes dashed when three Fs popped through their front door?

I’m not a teacher, nor am I in any kind of academic position to offer what many would consider worthwhile advice. I have been in the very real world of work for over ten years , however, and something rather worrying occurred to me this morning.

On my way to work, as I tried desperately to shake off the early morning tiredness a new puppy affords, I half-listened to a piece on the radio about A Level results. This got me thinking.

I can’t remember what I got for my A Levels.

No, really. I can’t remember at all. I’d need to dig out my school records to confirm what is a very distant recollection. I have an appalling memory, in fairness. So appalling, in fact, that I’ve already forgotten the sentence that preceded this one. That said, surely I should be able to remember something as seminal as my A Levels?

As mentioned, I am now approaching the thirtieth year of my life and I am a director of a computer software company. My name sits at the bottom of the headed paper with one glaring omission: there is not a single letter after my surname. One of our directors has about twenty-seven acronyms and prehistoric symbols, but I don’t have anything. Just a desolate, white gap acting as a reminder that I didn’t attend university.

It wasn’t an easy decision but one I was pretty certain of throughout my time at upper school. I had no inclination to go, not least because I didn’t have a firm idea of what I wanted to do for a living. The obvious career route was something to do with computers, as I was fairly handy with them. The other was either sound engineering or studio work which always seemed like a bit of a pipe dream to a lad of 16.

There is no doubt in my mind that the latter would benefit from a formal qualification. If I’m honest, laziness got the better of me and I slipped into a network administration job after dabbling in the somewhat frustrating world of temp work. Looking back, if I’d really considered the other two options and pushed myself, I may be in a very different place now. That said, I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason and I can’t complain about the way my working life has progressed. Nor can I complain about my home life which simply wouldn’t have been possible if I was out gigging every night of the week.

So why am I bothering to tell you this? If you are still reading (congratulations and thank you) and have been given the bad news about your results, do not fret. I got where I am today with one thing: hard work and determination. Wait… that’s two. Never mind, I’ve already explained I’m not Einstein.

My advice: sit down and think if university is the right thing for you. It may not be. One thing all employers look for – my company included – is experience. You can’t get a qualification for that and aside from being a prerequisite of almost any ‘serious’ job, it is an essential tool you’ll call on every minute of your working life, far more than you will that lecture you think you possibly attended four years ago in the midst of a hazy hangover.

Many firms have been put off graduates after bad experiences. We had one a couple of years ago with a lad who spent the majority of his working day leaning back on his chair, boasting about how much he had spent on clothing the previous weekend. It later turned out that the spoon-fed little oik had spent pretty much his entire time under our employment searching for jobs in shops such as Burtons and Top Man. Since the day we gleefully handed him his notice, we have steered clear of graduates and focussed on people with experience and enthusiasm. And it has worked wonders.

If you’re not entirely sure what you want to do, take a few weeks out and then hit the job market. Do some temp jobs. They are frustrating but they help you see the working world. You’ll get a head start on the people who are attending university and who knows what might happen… I went from nearly sawing my hand off with a bread knife as a kitchen attendant to making important decisions in board meetings.

Speaking as someone who can’t even remember what grades he got, hopefully this will ease your worries. Grades are not everything in the real world and I can honestly say I’ve not had to refer back to the work I did in sixth form once in the last ten years. That might come as a bit of a shock to some, but it is an unavoidable truth.

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